It’s funny. In the toddler years, I expected the near-constant series of “Why?” from my curious children. Yet, I am learning that the teenage years and the adult years are equally marked by lingering, loitering questions. While the questions may be less constant, they make up for the infrequency with the increasing sobriety attached to them.
Teenagers and adults, on the whole, are less interested in the mechanics that make the sky blue or the reason for the chameleon’s colors. They want to know why God made them this way, why a good God allowed evil, why life isn’t fair, and a litany of other significant questions. As a curious learner who loves certainty, I like the former questions far more than the latter.
It seems God is far more comfortable with our questions than we are most of of the time. After all, God saw fit that the earliest recorded book of the Bible was the book of Job: a raw, reeling account of questions, first from a deeply confusing man and then from a compassionate yet transcendent God. Likewise, God graciously provided us with the questions posed by so many psalmists and prophets: Why do the nations rage? How long, O Lord? Why does the wicked renounce God? Will you forget me forever? How long, O Lord, will you look on? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook? (Pss. 2:1; 6:3; 13:1; 10:13; 13:1; 35: 17; Jer. 15:18).
Their Spirit-inspired and sovereignly-recorded questions serve as pavers to lead us through the weeds of confusion and heartache back towards the presence of the God who can handle our questions.
Far from being signs of lack of faith, these questions are often a right response to living in a world where what we know to be true about God doesn’t seem to square up with a crooked reality (from our limited, finite perspective). It would be more alarming if we were not asking these questions when we see, feel, and experience dissonance during our exile on earth.
Three Literary Helps When Questions Are Your Company
Lately, three very different writers have helped me feel less crazy in my sea of questions. They, along with the aforementioned prophets and psalmists, have been my company among in the land of questions marks.
In her book Suffering Is Never For Nothing, Christian writer Elisabeth Elliott reminds her readers that our reflexive question of “Why?” when suffering wreaks havoc in our hearts and homes is a gentle reminder that we aren’t the product of chance. If we are merely evolving organisms, why does not make sense, especially is there is no supernatural Creator ready to receive our questions and attempts to make sense of brokenness and pain.
In his book The Town Beyond the Wall, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel offers us an invitation to listen as Michael, the protagonist (who is also a Holocaust survivor) seeks to make sense of insensible evil. After surviving the concentration camps, he finds himself imprisoned in a Soviet town on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. In his cell with him is a devout Jew, Menachem, whose friendship and encouragement keeps him from losing his faith in God altogether. Though Menachem does not have answers, he continues to bring his deep, knotted questions into the presence of God. When Michael accuses him of blaspheming by asking such hard, honest, direct questions of God himself, he responds, saying, “I prefer to blaspheme in God than far from Him.”
Later, after Menachem has been released, Michael begins to understand the lesson his friend taught him as he seeks to help a younger prisoner. He writes that man must “as the great questions and ask them again, to look up at another, a friend, and to look up again: if two questions stand face to face, that’s at least something. It’s at least a victory.”
As believers in Christ, there is ample room for two people full of questions to look at one another and sit with each other in their questions. Sharing our questions and inviting others in to the mysteries which have us wrestling is a victory that honors our God. When my sons comes to me with a hard, “Why is this happening?” question, at best I can meet him with my own question and usher us into the presence of the God who will one day replace every question mark with an exclamation mark.
Lastly, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tinkers, Paul Harding’s thoughts about uncertainty have given me great solace as I wrestle with my own feelings of dis-ease and uncertainty.
“Your cold mornings are filled with heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it? And as you split frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace towards you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty.”
I love thinking about God using our uncertainties and even our deepest wrestlings to believe to draw us into deeper grace. The more we wrestle with him, the more intimate we become with him. Questions do not have to break our fellowship with God; refusing to bring them to him creates the distance, not the presence of the questions themselves.
If questions are your company right now, remember that you are in good company. Find a friend who will sit with you in the question and gently prod you into the presence of the One who invites our wrestling (if you are not sure, just ask Jacob who literally wrestled with the angel of the Lord).
Bringing questions to God shows faith, not a lack thereof. Press on, weary friend. He will come to us as sure as the sweet spring rains. What he has torn, he will heal. What he has stirred (or allowed to be stirred), he will settle.
“Come. let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains water the earth” (Hosea 6:1-3).
God answers our questions with a loving question of his own:
“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?…My compassion grows warm and tender…for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:8-9).